[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


November 5, 2005


This week in Palestine….. Behind the news with Hanna Siniora


National Elections


President Mahmoud Abbas's most important achievement from the summit meeting with President Bush was the acknowledgement by the USA that Hamas should be allowed to participate in the coming Legislative Council (PLC) national elections on January 25, 2006.  This acquiescence by the Bush Administration resulted in toned down Israeli statements accepting the participation of Hamas in parliamentary elections, and reversing earlier statements by Israeli leaders of disrupting the PLC elections if Hamas participated.


Abbas in his statements in the PLC and in his message to the nation confirmed that the January 25, 2006 date for national elections is sacrosanct, and open to the participation of all the Palestinian movements including Hamas.  The Palestinian public and the various Palestinian organizations felt encouraged and relieved as it allowed President Abbas to pursue his policy of reform, better governance, and upholding the law and order, while involving all the political forces in joining his agenda.


Cabinet Stability -- Foreign Service Appointments


President Abbas in his statement delivered in the PLC, announced that the Qurei Cabinet will continue in office until the Parliamentary elections take place in January 2006.  Abass silenced the demands by the PLC to reshuffle the cabinet, although talks are still ongoing with the PLC speaker Rawhi Fattouh on this issue.  Abu Mazen declared that cabinet members who intend to run in the elections should be replaced by new appointments replacing those who resigned.


In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the long-awaited reshuffle and retirement of Palestinian diplomats started taking shape.  PLO Ambassador in London Dr. Afif Safia took over the Palestinian mission in Washington DC immediately after the summit of Abbas-Bush.  The previous representative Hasan Abdul Rahman was shifted as the new ambassador in Rabat Morocco.  Ms Laila Shaheed, PLO-PNA representative in France, was appointed as the representative to Belgium and the EU, replacing retired Ambassador Shawki Armehi.  The present Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, Ms. Hind Khoury, has been appointed as the new representative in France, to take office December 1, 2005.  In London, the deputy chancellor of the Bethlehem University, Professor Manuel Hassassian has been appointed the head of the PLO-PNA legation.  Several ambassadors have been retired, and new replacements have been appointed, a triumph for Dr. Nasser Al-Qidwa, the PNA Minister of Foreign Affairs, also a major development in good governance for President Mahmoud Abbas despite the opposition of Mr Farouk Qaddoumi the head of the Fatah secretariat and the PLO Foreign Minister.


Rafah Crossing


Israeli Defense Minister Mofaz during his recent meeting with US Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice announced that an agreement in principle has been reached with the Egyptians allowing a European third-party role.  A dispute is still to be resolved by the return of the special envoy of the Quartet Jim Wolfensohn in regard to the role of the third-party, regarding whether it is it an enforcement role or a monitoring role.  Also on the foreign visitors entering Gaza, from Kerem Shalom or the Rafah crossing point.  These issues could be resolved within days or as we have seen so far, three months after the disengagement and might take several more weeks.  Dr Rice's visit to the region late next week and might result in finally resolving this issue and signing the protocol to that effect.  American involvement is a key necessity for moving forward in order to relieve the situation in the Gaza Strip.


Targeted Killing as a Policy


Israel and its successive governments have pursued targeted killing as a policy to eliminate Palestinian activists who deal in violence and terror.  According to the judicial system in Israel, capital punishment is not allowed, yet this policy persists despite its failure -- for example it was a major factor in the elections for Shimon Peres, when the engineer Yahya Ayash was liquidated in Gaza, and Netanyahu won the elections.  The vicious cycle of violence, at present, has led to Islamic Jihad to retaliate against the policy of targeted killing of its activists.  The presence cease-fire that Hamas and others have pursued for the past ten months is in danger of falling apart.  Egypt and its officials headed by Minister Omar Suleiman are inviting all the Palestinian factions again to Egypt in order to salvage the ceasefire.  Islamic Jihad has to observe the ceasefire, however Egypt has to secure from Israel that targeted killings should stop.  But what is important, the PA has also to enforce law and order, after almost a year in office, despite the need to build up its forces; it is high time that its authority on the ground should be respected.  It is a Palestinian public demand, it is additionally a global request, the PA has to enforce its public statements, otherwise the credibility of the PA and President Abbas is on the line, in doubt.